Should the Gospel of Mary Be in the New Testament?

Mary of Magdala was rendered voiceless, like women continue to be today.

Posted Jul 31, 2020

Karen Nadine/Pixabay
Source: Karen Nadine/Pixabay

Mary of Magdala was liberated from seven demons by Jesus, remained faithfully by him, witnessed his crucifixion, watched his burial, attended his grave, was the first witness to his resurrection, and was sent by him to tell the good news. And then obliterated by the church.

Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher at the Center for Action and Contemplation, wrote:

“For over a millennium, Mary of Magdala was misidentified as the woman with the alabaster jar who was called a “sinner” and who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36–50). . . .

What we do know about Mary Magdalene is that she was the woman who was closest to Jesus. She was “possessed by seven demons” and Jesus healed her (Luke 8:2). She is mentioned in the Resurrection accounts by name in all four Gospels, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of other women. She was the first to meet the risen Christ. The fact that she immediately went to embrace him is a testament to the closeness of their relationship, the mutual regard and affection they must have shared. When Jesus said to her “Don’t cling to me” (John 20:17), he was indicating that the time for physical closeness was in the past. Mary’s love had to release the finite in order to reach a more expansive, spiritual dimension.”

“The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8:1-3, NIV)

Mary was part of Jesus's closest followers and an active supporter, including probably monetarily. Mary is always listed first when the women are mentioned. She is accorded a similar position among the women as Peter is to the men. This is why she could not have been any of the other women ascribed to be her, whether the woman with the alabaster jar or a prostitute.

If Mary had simply been a woman needing forgiveness for a vice or a disciple like the thousands who followed Jesus, the men would not have felt compelled to erase her from the resurrection record and/or sully her name. Hippolytus of Rome describes the conflated women of Mary as a second Eve who replaces the disobedient first Eve with an obedient one; he also calls her an apostle. Yet Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 5, skips right over Mary when he lists the first witnesses to Jesus's resurrection. He instead lists Peter as being the first. Already, we can begin to see the patriarchal mindset erasing women from Jesus’s ministry.

So what was Mary’s authority such that the church felt compelled to erase it?

The Gospel of Mary is the only existing Gospel written by a woman, or rather written by her followers or an unknown author, in the same way that the New Testament Gospels were written by unknown authors but attributed to known names. Yet since its discovery, it's been characterized as a Gnostic Gospel. Gnosticism elevates personal, spiritual knowledge over teachings and tradition. Labelling it "gnostic" allows people to continue to ignore Mary as an important figure in the early church even though they've begun to resurrect Mary back to her self.

The Nag Hammadi Scriptures contains the Coptic and Greek translations of this Gospel. Three teams of scholars on two continents separately and together made a conscientious attempt to adhere closely to the Coptic texts while making the translation as readable and felicitous as possible. They employ gender neutral language where the spirit of the Coptic text recommends it without compromising accuracy. Where the gender is uncertain or general, they use “Child of Humanity” instead of “Son of Man” and “Son of Humanity” where specifically referring to Jesus instead of “Son of Man.” (Nag Hammadi Scriptures, Page 11)

By comparing the Gospel of Mary with the New Testament, we can see that it lies within orthodoxy.

“Will matter then be utterly [destroyed] or not?”

The Saviour replied, “Every nature, every modeled form, every creature exists in and with each other. They will dissolve again into their own proper root. For the nature of matter is dissolved into what belongs to its nature. Whoever has ears to hear should hear.” (Nag Hammadi Scriptures, page 741)

The last sentence we’ve heard Jesus say many times throughout the Gospels.

In this Gospel, Jesus is called, “Saviour,” “Lord,” the “Blessed One.” “Saviour” is a term that would resonate among the Greek and using "matter" instead of "flesh" or "earth" would be more in line with Greek word usage. But using these terms doesn't make it heretical. We know Jesus as Saviour. Although calling him “Saviour” sounds strange in the way it’s written here, it falls within orthodoxy.

We have heard this same question and answer in the New Testament.

In Mark 13:31, we read, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” And 2 Peter 3:10-13 expands on Paul’s letter in 1 Cor 7:31, saying, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” (NIV)

Comparing the entire Gospel would take more than this space allows. But we can already see that what at first blush may seem heretical actually falls in with the male New Testament writers.

As we ponder who Mary of Magdala was in truth, let us also open our minds to female teachings about Jesus. There was a reason he chose Mary to be the first to witness his resurrection. Jesus, in effect, told all of humanity: women’s words are reliable.

Copyright ©2020 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

References

Meyer, Marvin W., & Robinson, James M. (2009) The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume. New York: Harper Collins.